2017 Clewiston Sugar Festival

KI4QIQ, KI4LFF, and some Big Tires

The 31st Clewiston Sugar Festival is in the books, and by most any measure it was a mass-of-humanity good time. Live music, shiny custom cars, old-school steam farm equipment, and food, food, food.

The participating amateur radio operators of Big Lake ARC wore their Reservist colors as Hendry EM representatives working out of the Joint Command Post supporting Hendry County EMS, Clewiston Fire, Montura Fire, Pioneer Fire, Hendry Sheriff’s Office, and Clewiston Police.

Incident Command was Clewiston PD’s Lieutenant Aaron Angell, backed by Clewison PD’s Debi McNeil, Hendry EMS Captain Adrian Damms, Hendry EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, EM Logistics Chief Cristina Mercado, and E-911 Technician Brandi Frame KN4AFW.

Clewiston began as a work-camp during the construction of the Moore Haven and Clewiston Railroad. The railway was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company (ACL) on July 1, 1925. – – Hendry County, Florida. 1920. Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

After the group briefing from Lieutenant Angell, the hams were honored with a personal team briefing outlining their expected duties as support personnel.

KC1FLU set a high bar for net control at the go-box with measured tones, time and station checks, and regular information updates on both the amateurs 446.000 ground frequency, and the local Clewiston 2-meter repeater.

The go-box is a bright yellow Pelican case containing an Alinco DR-635 dual bander and matching 32-amp switched power supply. A Diamond X50A dual-band antenna gets the signal out.

KI4LFF, KM4EWE, and KI4QIQ also set a high performance mark as Rovers, supporting Public Safety teams in the field, and acting as dispatched eyes-on-site for specific areas of the festival.

On three occasions they helped sweep the grounds looking for parents separated from their children, and to help locate a mentally-disabled man for his family. The Rover teams were out the door immediately after a quick briefing, moments after the calls came in for the missing individuals.

They were equipped with County 800-MHz public safety radios for direct communication with the Command Post as well as their UHF amateur communications.

An exercise was planned to simulate a failure of the 800-MHz system. Hams would have been dispatched to the EMS strike teams to act as their communicators. A spike in activity among festival-goers requiring increased attention of Public Safety personnel about the same time led to the decision to postpone the exercise.

KC0SJU wore his Red Cross vest during the festival, manning a responder rehab tent with water and snacks.

Breakfast was served up from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church courtesy of Hendry County EC, WA4PAM.

WD4RCC acted as unit leader for the amateur’s participation in the Sugar Festival, to which all the senior members of Joint Command gave high marks for readiness, flexibility, and cooperation with County and City Public Safety staff.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot – Clewiston. 192?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The takeaways from the deployment were mostly technical. The command post was located in a room that was acoustically highly reflective. The noise level with multiple radios going off simultaneously was taxing the focus of everyone in the room.

Some modifications to the go-box were suggested including a front-firing speaker, or a way to prop the box lid to direct the sound towards the operator. Also, keeping some duct tape in the box to secure power and coaxial cabling to floors and walls in a busy environment.

Unlike February’s Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival that had the hams exceeding the range limits of handy-talkies on UHF simplex along a two mile parade route, the Clewiston Sugar Festival was more compact, all within nine city blocks. (Think a tic-tac-toe grid.) For this deployment, the large Diamond antenna was overkill. A smaller dual band whip attached to a connector mounted through the go-box would have been sufficient.

by Davis, Wally. Aerial view of Clewiston, Florida. 1958. Black & white photoprint, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.